One of the main tactics used by the Religious System against those who speak out about their abuse is “ostracizing” or “shunning” of the victim and his or her family. Throughout the years, it has become a weapon of choice amongst clergy and Christians. It is used to SILENCE victims. By using this tactic, the church leadership enables perpetrators to move on to their next victim and the trauma inflicted on the victims and their families, is huge! For some, the risk of losing all the friends that they have ever known, their “church family”, is enough to keep them silent. Relationships in the Church all hinge on the premise that we must “keep the unity” of the church family intact. When there are hidden abuses that come to the surface, however, it brings conflict into the church as other members take sides and are pitted against each other. Many churches have been split over this type of conflict arising in the church.
When the abuser is the pastor or a person in a position of leadership in the church, the trauma to the victim and their families is ten-fold. I speak about this in my book, Religion’s Cell: Doctrines of the Church that Lead to Bondage and Abuse. “This type of behavior leaves its victims in a state of shock at first. Then the shock turns into a deep and hurtful wound of the spirit. Some will walk away from the faith as a result of this tactic, while others may walk away from the church. And yet there are some that will stay and take the abuse because they have been brainwashed into believing there is no other place to go that preaches and teaches the truth. In all instances, the wound eventually becomes covered over without ever being dealt with properly. This type of wound is dangerous and can manifest itself later on by being duplicated by the victim against someone else, or it can manifest itself in adverse behaviors and vices that will be hidden from the view of the church body.” (Religion’s Cell, pg. 23)
Attached to “shunning” is shame and guilt. The abuser wants to put on the back of the victim the guilt that it was “the victim’s fault.” This mindset is also propagated throughout the congregation against the victim. Many church leaders have made victims stand in front of their congregations and “confess” to their “sin” of __________. (You can fill in the blank.) I have seen children standing before my own “church family” and having to admit that they were the guilty one simply because that is what leadership told them they needed to do! CHILDREN! When a girl is molested or raped in the church setting, the mentality is that it is the girl’s fault. When a young boy is molested or raped in the church setting, it is the boy’s fault. This guilt that these CHILDREN carry with them has destructive tentacles that poison every aspect of their lives. The tentacles are far reaching and, the destruction attached to these tentacles, can even carry over into their children’s lives when they get married and have families of their own. This path of destruction has no end UNTIL the abusers have been dealt with and these victims are FREED from the shame and guilt and pain and suffering that they have been carrying. I tell victims of abuse often, that God made a provision in scripture to protect victims of abuse and crime. It involves RESTITUTION to the victim. However, today’s clergy have by-passed this provision and teach a “forgive and forget” mentality that perpetrates more abuse in the church.
Nancy’s story is not an isolated one! I too, have been on the receiving end of shunning. It is painful and hard to deal with. Nancy’s story is a tragic one. The “family” that she so desperately needed to support her and her sexually abused boys, left her alone to fight in the darkness of anguish and despair; all the while, hoping that their tactic would silence her lips from going to the authorities about the abuses. What a sad state the church has fallen in to! Here’s Nancy’s Story:
When a Branch Falls
By Nancy Bicknell
One of my favorite drawings I was drawn to as a young teen artist was from the poem, The Last Leaf. I suffered from childhood depression and was eventually admitted to an intensive impatient program after some observant professional in my life picked up on the cues I was sending out in my drawings. I would draw this gnarly tree that had all but one of its branches cut off and, on that branch, was one leaf hanging on as the wind whipped it back and forth. That drawing actually saved my life when a teacher, seeing the signs of depression and assessing my self-harming behaviors, reached out to get me help. Unlike many of the Independent Fundamental Baptist survivors put in unregulated homes where Ungodly Discipline was used, I was in a state run Mental Hospital in Madison , Wisconsin, and I did very well.
I got up this morning and that drawing came to my mind…no, not because I am thinking of harming myself, but because I am remembering when a branch fell out of a tree and took out the back window on my car. That was a couple of years ago when I was still in the IFB cult and my husband was suddenly struck with a severe mental illness leaving me as the main branch to hold things together. I was not much stronger than my husband, at that time, who was hospitalized with Depression with Psychosis and catatonia. (This was quite weird because, that is what had happened to me as a teenager.)
I was determined to be the ‘Strong Branch’ and, to lean on God again and have the Independent Fundamental Baptist church hold me up, as I knew my own history and did not want my mental health issues to be triggered. So, I did what an artist does, and that is to begin to draw pictures to sell and keep my home together. I had been shunned from the Independent Fundamental Baptist church some years ago after my son, Scott’s IFB teacher, had sex with him and we were fired as teachers. The family branches were broken from the IFB abuse and we separated. I remarried many years later to my current husband who continues to suffer today, being bedridden as well.
During this time, an IFB Professor and his wife who had been my friends for years, saw my suffering and reached out to me to encourage me to come back to the IFB fold and connect my disconnected branch back into the IFB tree trunk. I felt alone and desperate for family at this time, and remembered this professor and his wife’s love for me over the past years in the IFB. The professor had always supported my art work. He had me paint a life portrait of his children when I was his student. When he had a house fire, he risked life and limb to save the portrait from the fire. Later, my house burned, and he and his wife sat with me every day as we sorted through my burned up paintings I had in my personal collection in my home. Our spirits were melted together by the fires and we became family.
So, I again connected my broken branch to the support of the IFB Tree Trunk. When another tree branch fell on my car, the professor seeing I was driving with a plastic window, offered to pay for a new one. When he saw a need in my family, like with the fire, he and his wife came to the rescue. The professor’s wife, who was now my best friend, also became ill, so we both had spouses who needed our care. We understood each other; I thought we were all like family.
Then, another BRANCH FELL. My other son, Doug, who had become isolated and seemingly depressed, spilled the beans about his violent sexual abuse during a spanking at the same Independent Fundamental Baptist School! Immediately, I saw The Last Leaf drawing in my head, for him. I was stunned, and unable to respond for weeks, until one day, I finally reached out to my professor friend. I thought he would know what to do, but, as it turned out, he was friends with the abuser. My beloved professor friend, a deacon at the church, now saw that my family had once again become a branch that need to be severed. We now had become a liability to the IFB church and the only way he would continue to be our friend was if we never talked about the abuse outside of the church walls.
Well, not talking about the abuse was going to cause my son’s Last Leaf to fall, and I was not sure of my own mental health, so, we as a family, including my other son, Scott, reached out for help on the IFB cult Support groups on Facebook. Because of this, my professor friend said that he would not talk to me ever again and, if I tried to come to his Sunday school class he would not acknowledge me. Shunned again, and cut asunder, we went through another fire. Even though we both had chronically ill spouses, the exposing of my other son’s abuse, became the “last straw” that severed our relationship not only with the Professor and his wife, but the church, for the final time. We left the church and, once again, experienced loss of friendships, hurt and ostracizing from those who “professed to love us.”
Well, a Branch Fell on my heart last night. “I heard that my best friend, the professor’s wife, who I have not seen or talked to for 2 years now, has died. I asked my very ill husband who fights depression and went through the trauma with me regarding our boys’ sexual abuse, If we should attend the funeral. His response was, “No, you can’t.” So, here I am, once again, cut off. My heart is broken for the loss of my friend whom I loved so dearly. I am crying as I write this, but realize that the day will come when I can talk to her in Heaven. There won’t be any shunning in Heaven. God has not cut me asunder like the IFB church and its people have; and last night, it seemed like I saw her peaking though a cloud saying in her lovely impish way. “Hi, there friend, heaven is just as we thought it would be, and I will talk at ya’ later.”
From the Author: Stories like this drive home the reality of the pain and suffering that those who are shunned feel. Even after the severing of the ties, the emotional bonds never die. Victims struggle from day to day trying to figure out how they can suddenly “not be loved” anymore; especially when they desperately NEED the support of friends and family in order to overcome the abuse and trauma. They feel betrayed and, struggle with this betrayal. Sadly, victims of abuse in today’s churches have a long way to go in affecting any changes in the religious system and the use of these types of abusive tactics. However, do to the advent of the internet, victims now have a medium that gives them a voice and, that voice is ever growing in VOLUME. The voices of the abused now encompass every area of the world and allows these victims to come together as one to shout to the world what they have suffered at the hands of clergy. It is enabling them to finally seek the RESTITUTION they have been denied by the church. My hope is that these voices will be heard by those who can affect change in order to protect victims of clergy abuse.